Dead Men Left

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Our "progressive, reforming" government and health inequalities

The more sheeplike of New Labour's devoted herd are prone to saying things like:

For all its deficits and cowardice, for all its disappointments and missed opportunities, this Labour government remains the most redistributive in my lifetime.

As DML has hammered on about this quite a bit, I'll spare you a lengthy rant right now.

It still staggers me, however, that there are commentators of the liberal-left prepared to make such huge claims for a government that has, for example, presided over a very significant rise in the "health gap".

The Department of Health-commissioned report found the gap in life expectancy between the bottom fifth and the population as a whole had widened by 2% for males and 5% for females between 1997-9 and 2001-3.

The shift means the life expectancy in the wealthiest areas is seven to eight years longer than the poorest areas.

The gap in the infant mortality rate was 19% higher in 2001-3 between the poorest and general population, compared to 13% higher in 1997-9.

This isn't some dramatic new revelation, either, since other researchers from Bristol University have drawn exactly the same conclusion:

The health gap remained stable between 1992-94 and 1995-97 but has been widening since. It is now wider than it has been since Victorian times, the authors say, and reflects increases in the gap between rich and poor.

The reasons for the wealth-health link are obvious:

The researchers claim this directly reflects increases in inequality of income and wealth. The rich have access to private health care, live in areas of low pollution and limited road traffic, and can save for their retirements.

Those outside of this happy situation must rely on underfunded NHS hospitals, live in worse housing in more polluted areas and have little hope of retiring either early or in comfort.

As a result, they die younger. The bigger the gap in income and wealth, the more pronounced this effect becomes.

Even without Iraq, this government would be a sore disappointment.